The International Rugby Board has announced details of the exciting new qualification pathway into the HSBC Sevens World Series, as the sport enters its first Olympic cycle and continues to build towards its Games debut in 2016.
For the 2012/13 season, which kicks off on Australia's Gold Coast on October 13-14 2012, the number of core teams that participate in each of the nine rounds has increased from 12 to 15, following the qualification of Canada, Portugal and Spain.
From the end of the 2012/13 Series, promotion and relegation from core team status will come into effect, with a pre-qualifying competition in Hong Kong and a final core team qualifier in London at the ninth and final round of the season.
The 2013 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will feature 28 teams, an increase on the usual 24, and will comprise two distinct competitions: In the first, the 15 current core teams and the winner of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series will compete for the famous Hong Kong title and World Series points. In the second competition, 12 teams - two qualifiers from each of the six regional tournaments - will compete for places at the core team qualifying final in London.
The Marriott London Sevens, the final round of the Series, will also feature two distinct tournaments, and a total of 20 teams. In the first, the top 12-ranked sides in the HSBC Sevens World Series standings after round eight in Glasgow will compete for the London title, and final World Series points towards their overall tally. In the second, the 13th, 14th and 15th-ranked core teams after the Glasgow event will compete against five pre-qualified regional teams from Hong Kong, for the three available core team places on the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series.
The introduction of the exciting new format is in line with the comprehensive IRB Sevens Plan that was developed in partnership with the IRB's Member Unions and approved by the IRB Council last November. It reflects the IRB's mission to deliver a pathway that ensures all Member Unions have a transparent and merit-based opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2016.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "As we enter our first four-year Olympic cycle for Rugby Sevens and build towards Rio 2016, it is important that the opportunity exists for all nations to progress to Series core team status if they are good enough.
We are confident that this new system provides every nation competing in their regional qualifying tournament with a direct chance to gain core team status and compete on every round of the World Series.
"We are also accelerating towards our Olympic Games debut in Rio and this change to the Series structure underscores our commitment to ensuring a transparent opportunity-for-all pathway to the Games."